Two motorists are awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to their involvement in unrelated traffic fatalities within the past 18 months.

Benjamin McKeel, 39, of Mill Run, Fayette County, pleaded guilty before President Judge John Cascio Wednesday to homicide by vehicle and driving under the influence for running over a pedestrian. The woman was run over near her home in Lower Turkeyfoot Township on March 4.

State police said McKeel had a blood-alcohol level of 0.28 percent – more than three times the legal limit of 0.08 percent for driving in Pennsylvania – when he lost control of his pickup and hit Helen Owens, 63, on Jersey Hollow Road near Confluence.

Owens, who had been walking from her home to her mailbox, died at Memorial Medical Center.

Open beer cans were found at the scene, police said.

McKeel faces a maximum of seven years and six months in state prison and fines totaling $21,000.

McKeel also is being sued for unspecified damages by Owens’ daughter, Tammy Hetrick of Grantsville, Md.

In the civil lawsuit, Hetrick’s attorney, Jeffrey Pribanic of White Oak, Allegheny County, claimed Owens died as a direct result of McKeel’s “negligent, reckless and wanton misconduct.”

Hetrick is seeking restitution for Owens’ medical treatment, funeral and burial expenses; loss of financial support and pecuniary benefits, and the cost of administering her estate.

Christopher Abell, 19, of Somerset, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and DUI stemming from a crash that killed a Sipesville motorcyclist Sept. 4, 2004.

State police said Abell, a former scholastic wrestling standout and honors student at North Star High School, was driving a car that struck a Harley-Davidson motorcycle on Route 985 in Jenner Township, killing the driver and injuring a passenger.

Driver Barry Dodson, 46, died in the crash and his wife, Sandra Dodson, 45, was seriously injured.

State police determined Abell was traveling 80 to 90 mph before skidding suddenly, crossing the center lines and hitting the Dodsons’ cycle.

After initially telling a trooper he had not been drinking and had swerved to avoid a deer on the road, Abell later admitted he “had one beer with my friends.”

A preliminary breath test conducted after Abell failed a field-sobriety test showed a blood-alcohol content of 0.07 percent, far above the legal limit of 0.02 percent for minors.

Abell reportedly told police he was at a party and took beer from a keg.

He faces a maximum of five years and six months in prison and $15,500 in fines.

McKeel and Abell are free on bond.



Patrick Buchnowski can be reached at 445-5103 or pbuchnowski@tribdem.com.

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